Spatio-temporal dynamics of semi-arid grasslands

My objective is to develop mathematical and modelling approaches to quantifying the impact of ecosystem events (e.g. fire, flood, drought) on semi-arid grasslands in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. The methodology utilises time series of remotely-sensed imagery of Themeda triandra (Forskall) tussock grasslands,; data has been collected by the Ecosystems Research Group at UWA twice a year since 1996 and comprising 1280 images of 1m x 1m quadrats. Ecological theory can be used to generate spatio-temporal models of vegetation dynamics, including those incorporating fire. These models can then be fitted to the image data via an ad hoc statistical modelling technique that uses Monte Carlo simulation. This research is important because assessment of the stability and resilience of ecosystems would be enhanced if the impact of a particular sequence of ecosystem events on, say, vegetation productivity, could be accurately quantified and/or predicted. Output of validated models may then be used for short term predictions of system behaviour and defining relationships between patterns and process, pertinent to exploring interactions among multiple ecosystem events. For example, the ecological impact of fire will be dependent on the timing of previous fires and the recent patterning of rainfall, drought and biomass. Empirical understanding of the impact of such interactions on vegetation dynamics will permit a rigorous comparison of alternative management scenarios in highly complex systems.

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